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DEADPOOL 2: Very Familiar Formula, But Funny Enough

Now playing at a multiplex near everybody:

DEADPOOL 2 (Dir. David Leitch, 2018) 

Ah, Deadpool. You remember Deadpool, right? C’mon, you know him – he’s Marvel’s most meta character whose wise-cracks, crude antics, and bloody kills carry him, and us, through another familiar round of explosive action sequences.

And that’s what we’ve got in this follow-up to his 2016 debut, which I then called “the most hilarious Marvel movie yet.” This sequel doesn’t top the original, but it stands nicely beside it as it contains roughly the same amount of genuine laughs.

Ryan Reynolds, who also co-wrote and co-executive produced, again brings his extreme snark to the quipping anti-hero – anti-hero because he ends up killing more people than he saves – who we first become re-acquainted with as he attempts suicide via lying a top several big barrels of fuel and flicking a cigarette in the air to fall into one of them and blow himself to bits – which he does.

Of course, this being Deadpool, we know he survives this, but before we see his fate, Reynold’s Wade Willis (Deadpool’s real name – keep up!), tells us through voice-over that six weeks earlier he was on top of the world going on globe-trotting missions, and planning to have a family with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), but (Spoiler!) she’s killed by some goon, and Deadpool loses his mojo big time.

A James Bondian credits sequence, or joke credit sequence, as no real names are displayed only lines like “Starring somebody who obviously didn’t want to share the spotlight,” follows which amusingly features a perfectly overwrought power anthem called “Ashes,” sung by Céline Dion (that’s right).

After that, Deadpool sulks in misery around his friends from the first one – taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni), and bartender Weasel (T.J. Miller), but is given a new chance by the also returning Colossus (a CGI-ed Stefan Kapicic) to become a member of the X-Men, but as a trainee as he keeps getting reminded, mostly by, again another returning character, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who now has a girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna).

On Deadool’s first day on the job, he encounters a 14-year-old boy (Julian Dennison) named Russell who calls himself “Firefist” and is threatening to burn down his orphanage, the Essex House for Mutant Rehabilitation, because he was abused by the Headmaster (Eddie Marsan at his ghastliest). At the stand-off, Deadpool breaks the X-Men’s rule of not killing anyone, and is captured along with Russell and taken to a prison for mutants called The Icebox. 

Meanwhile, in a very TERMINATOR-esque scenario, a mercenary mutant named Cable (Josh Brolin) from the future travels to the present to avenge the death of his wife and kid who he traces as being the work of Russell/Fire Fist. After a massive, chaotic prison break setpiece, Deadpool realizes his calling is to protect the kid from Cable, and, with Weasel’s help, recruits a crew to get him out of prison.

The team, which Deadpool dubs “X-Force” despite its derivativeness, that they assemble includes Terry Crews as Bedlam, who can manipulate electrical energy; Lewis Tam as Shatterstar, a really arrogant alien; Zazie Beetz as Domino, who says her power is being lucky; Bill Skarsgard as Zeitgeist, whose super power is spewing acidic bile; Vanisher, who’s invisible so they don’t know if he’s really there or not; and Rob Delaney as Peter, who has no powers, but saw the ad and thought it’d be fun.

A big over-the-top, and all-over-the-place sequence (which sort of reminded me of MACGRUBER) involving the X-Force assaulting a prison truck, transporting Russell, and other mutants, introduces (Spoiler?) Juggernaut, a giant ogre that was first introduced in “X-Men” comics in the ‘60s. Juggernaut, who is credited as being played by “Himself,” goes up against Colosus in the third act which takes place at the Essex House, where Deadpool bargains with Cable for 30 seconds to talk Russell out of killing the headmaster. 


Yes, a lot of these plot points, and a lot of the jokes, can be seen coming, but the film, directed by stuntman/filmmaker David Leitch who co-directed JOHN WICK, moves fast through them with a high ratio of gags that land hilariously. Of all of the many one-liners, I think I liked “I was fighting this caped badass, until I found out that his mom is also named Martha” the best. 

Despite its satiric trappings, Reynolds actually gets to effectively flex some dramatic chops a few times in scenes involving his lost love. Brolin puts in another strong stoic performance as Cable, coming right on the heels of his stand-out work in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, which is referenced here in a Thanos joke because of course it is.

DEADPOOL 2 is another round of more of the same. More riffing on WOLVERINE, more mockery of genre conventions (“tell me they got that in slow motion”) and the competition (“So dark. Are you sure you’re not from the DC Universe?”), more self-criticism (Deadpool calls out “lazy writing” more than once), and more ironic song cues including Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” and “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” from “Annie” playing during scenes of stylish violence. There’s even another jab at GREEN LANTERN, something Reynolds will likely be making fun of for the rest of his life.

But because the movie is consistently funny throughout I can let all this familiarity slide, and I bet audiences can too.


More later…

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: The Best And Worst Of Marvel Movie Motifs All In One Place

Now playing at every multiplex in the MCU:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

(Dirs. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2018) 
This highly anticipated superhero epic begins with the familiar montage of imagery of iconic characters quickly blending into the logo for Marvel Studios. The “I” and “O” in the capital letters though are highlighted this time as a “10,” which seems to shout “10 years of kicking every other franchise’s ass!”

And it’s true, since IRON MAN came out in 2008, the studio, under the wing of Disney, has put out an interlocking series of nearly 20 blockbusters that have formed a business model that very other movie series, from DC to STAR WARS and beyond, has been trying to emulate. I.e. everybody wants to have a Cinematic Universe just like Marvel’s.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR has been teased throughout Marvel’s movies mostly in after credits stingers which have featured a big bad ass villain named Thanos (a CGI-ed Josh Brolin, who wonderfully chews through CGI setpiece after CGI setpiece), and the ongoing MacGuffin of the infinity stones – six powerful highly sought after different colored gems that can be used to destroy planets and conquer the universe.

So the Avengers join forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and Black Panther, among others, to stop Thanos from getting the Infinity Stones through another round of over-the-top battles that really wore me out in its crammed packed last third.

But large chunks of the movie are a lot of fun. Robert Downey Jr., whose ninth time this is in the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man, is again an enjoyably funny presence as he continues his mentorship to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and snarkily sparring off with Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, and an equally amusing Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Starlord.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, who hit the screen to the Spinner’s “Rubberband Man” (an obvious nod to their ‘70s mixtape soundtrack trope), are granted with a lot of screen-time as Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is Thano’s daughter, something that I guess was revealed in a previous movie but I didn’t remember it, and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and a now teengage Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) split with the others including Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) to accompany Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to some other realm to get some weapon to take Thanos down with.

The audience I was in cheered when the movie cut to the lavish, and, of course, fictional African nation of Wakanda, ruled by T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), obviously because his film, BLACK PANTHER, which just came out a few months ago was one of the biggest hits of the MCU (and of all-time), and considered a game changer for the franchise. Boseman’s T’Challa brings the goods, but his part despite that Thano’s army of crazy four-armed alien creatures invades Wakanda, is essentially a glorified cameo.

Same goes for Chris Evans returning as Steve Rogers, the retired Captain America, which is maybe because his last movie was basically an AVENGERS entry that he was the star of. Also on the side is Rogers’ buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), along with Paul Bettany as Vision, and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff /Scarlet Witch, who figure in because Vision has one of the Infinity Stones embedded in his head, but, as committed as Bettany and Vision are in their parts, the characters have never really resonated for me.

What also didn’t do much for me was a lot of strained quasi-Shakespearean exposition between or during action sequences that came off like with the actors over emoting about gods, the cosmos, the universe and everything in order to elevate the proceedings (even Peter Dinklage, in his appearance as Eitri the Dwarf King, lays it on a bit thick). Like everything else in the last 45 minutes or so, this was a bit much.

I preferred the comical elements such as Mark Ruffalo’s exasperating and failing struggle to Hulk out throughout the film, the multitude of one-liners like Quill telling Stark, “Let’s talk about this plan of yours – I think it’s good, except it sucks, so let me do the plan, and that way, it might be really good,” and, no surprise here, the Stan Lee cameo.

So AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is the best and worst of all of the Marvel movie motifs all in one place. It’s overstuffed, overlong, and at times overwrought, but a lot of it is immensely entertaining, and often hilarious. Most fans will love it – or most of it – while non fans will dismiss it as a bunch of nonsensical bombast. You know, like every other Marvel movie.

James Cameron, who has multiple AVATAR sequels in the works, was recently quoted as saying that he hopes “we’ll start getting AVENGER fatigue here pretty soon.” Well, fatigue has set in before in the franchise (see IRON MAN 2, the first two THORs, DR. STRANGE, etc.) and did indeed set in towards the end of this, but its satisfyingly dark cliffhanger of a conclusion made my second (or third?) wind kick in. That helped to get me through the thousands of names of SFX Technicians, and Digital Artists to get to the post credits scene, which is something you’ll want to wait for too.


More later…

The Big, Bad Ass BLACK PANTHER Is A Beaut

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everybody:

BLACK PANTHER (Dir. Ryan Coogler, 2018)

Let me get this straight – after 17 films dominated by white folks, particularly white men, we finally get a Marvel movie headed by a black superhero, with a nearly all black cast, written, directed, and shot by black artists, and released during black history month?

Well, it may have taken them until they got halfway through Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which launched with IRON MAN back in 2008, but here it is, the big, bad ass BLACK PANTHER, and it’s a beaut.

Chadwick Boseman, who’s previously played iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson, iconic soul singer James Brown, and iconic Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, takes on the iconic role of the first black superhero of mainstream American comics, whose real name is T’Challa, known to the world as the ruler of the isolationist African country Wakanda.


When he’s not attending to his country’s policies, T’Challa becomes the Black Panther, outfitted in a sleek skin-tight suit made out of Vibranium (a fictional metal that’s featured in several Marvel movies), and a fearsome feline mask, so he can more effectively fight the forces of evil.


Embedded in Wakanda is a secret technologically advanced civilization which T’Challa becomes the king of after fighting off the challenge for the throne by rival tribe leader M’Baku (Winton Duke).

T’Challa’s supporting crew includes his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his wise-cracking sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his best friend W’Kabi (GET OUT’s Daniel Kaluuya), his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), and his bodyguards Ayo (Florence Kasumba), and Okoye (The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira).

Threat to the order of Wakanda comes in the form of Michael B. Jordan as N’Jadaka/ Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, who seeks revenge for the murder of his father N’Jobu (This is Us’s Sterling K. Brown).

This second challenge for the throne is where the franchise formula becomes the most transparent in BLACK PANTHER as we know that T’Challa will lose this fight, because that’s the arc of just about every superhero movie. First act, our protagonist is triumphant, in the second they are either stripped of their powers or seemingly killed, and in the third they return to reclaim their glory.

These acts, or challenges, are filled out by zippy setpieces including a nighttime car chase through the streets of Seoul, South Korea; and an air combat sequence involving one of the film’s token white characters, CIA Operative Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) piloting a remote jet.

The rest of the kinetically colorful adventure concerns a lot of swordplay and hand-to-hand combat captured in eye-poppingly sweeping shots by cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who shot Coogler’s 2013 debut FRUITVALE STATION, and was recently nominated for an Oscar for her work on Dee Rees MUDBOUND. There’s also the eye candy of Ruth E. Carter’s elaborate costuming, and Hannah Beachler’s shiny production design.

Written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, the production soars on just about every level. Boseman brings gravitas, and a sense of personal power to his performance, and is well matched to Jordan’s scenery chewing villain. Jordan is also again a good match with writer/director Coogler, having worked with him on both of his superb previous films, FRUITVALE STATION, and CREED.

Of the other cast members, it’s the women who often steal the show, whether it’s Wright with her well-timed one-liners, Gurira with her unblinking icy delivery which will make you forget Michonne, or Nyong’o, whose Wakandan warrior spy character is refreshingly more than just the requisite love interest for our hero.

The enormously positive buzz for BLACK PANTHER has some critics calling it the best Marvel movie ever, but I wouldn’t go that far (not sure which one I’d pick though – I’ll get back to you on that). I’m just going to consider it another vastly entertaining winner for the brand, which, I’ve got to admit, has been impressively consistent in quality for an 18 and counting film franchise.

Of course, along with all the expected Marvel marks being hit – call backs to previous movies, comic cameos by Stan Lee, etc. – there are mid and post credits scenes, so be sure to stay until the very end.


More later…

Branagh’s Misguided MURDER & More THOR

And now, catching up with a couple of movies currently playing at every multiplex:

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

(Dir. Kenneth Branagh, 2017)


Kenneth Branagh takes on the directing duties, and the starring role of Detective Hercule Poirot in this fourth adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 bestselling novel, which never leaves the shadow of Sydney Lumet’s 1974 version.

In that first adaptation, Albert Finney is initially unrecognizable as Poirot with his slicked-back black hair, outrageous mustache, and stodgy demeanor, but the blond Branagh just looks like himself, only with similarly exaggerated facial hair. His accent, an attempt at a thick Belgian brogue, even disappears a number of times.

Branagh’s Poirot fronts a cast comprised of A-listers Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, and Judi Dench, alongside lesser known names such as Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Tom Bateman.

Yeah, it’s a big ensemble, so, as can be guessed, most of these players gets a limited amount of screen-time so if you’re a Depp fan, be warned that his role is a glorified cameo at best.

Especially since Depp, as rich businessman Samuel Ratchett, is the murder victim so he’s a corpse throughout the bulk of the picture. As the well worn mystery trope goes, the rest of the cast all have dark connections to Rachett, which means tons of motives, and Poirot interrogates the suspects one by one for his investigation.

This all takes place while the train has been stranded on its route by an avalanche and they have to wait for help to arrive. Unlike MURDER ’74, Branagh takes the passengers off of the train for a lot of the second half, and even stages the big reveal in the exterior of the tunnel the train has been stalled in front of.

This movie is full of such visual choices – the camera swoops over snowy mountaintops, cranes from the bottom to the top of the frame while its subjects stay in the middle of the show, and, most annoyingly, films two entire scenes from directly overhead. As gorgeous as much of the scenery shot by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos is, these show-off moves distract from the story and make what could’ve been a tense gritty remake into something that looks like a glossy magazine spread.

But the most frustrating thing about Branagh’s take on the 83-year old story is how he botches the conclusion so that it has precious little impact. The construction of the big reveal is as rickety as the CGI bridge the train is trapped on. Branagh, working from a screenplay by Michael Green (BLADE RUNNER 2049, LOGAN), has fashioned a self indulgent, yet pretty looking muddle out of Christie’s most famous whodunit.

It just doesn’t hold a candle to what Lumet did with this material in ’74. Consider the superiority of that film’s all-star cast – Finney’s Poirot is joined by Lauren Bacall, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, John Gielgud, and Jacqueline Bisset (if you younger readers don’t know these names – spend some time with movies made before STAR WARS) – the infinitely sharper script by Oscar winning screenwriter Paul Dehn, and its suitably claustrophobic interiors which are free of any visual trickery.

So obviously, my recommendation is to skip Branagh’s misguided MURDER ‘17, and seek out Lumet’s much classier ’74 version. I bet it’ll make for a more satisfying experience, and you will be spared about how this new one so cynically sets up a sequel – Poirot gets a message at the end from Egypt about being needed to investigate a death on the Nile (get it?).


THOR: RAGNARAK
(Dir. Taika Waititi, 2017)

We’re now halfway through Phrase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie franchise, so here’s the third installment of the THOR adventures, currently # 1 at the box office, which I enjoyed a lot more than the first two (the first one was directed by Branagh incidentally).

As I’ve written before, Thor is my least favorite of the Marvel movie characters, but this time around the guy, again played with gusto by Chris Hemsworth, has grown on me, and with Taika Waititi (who directed the hilarious 2014 vampire mockumentary WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, and year’s winning comedy adventure HUNT OF THE WILDERBEAST) at the helm, the Norse God heads a smashingly funny film. One that stands beside ANT-MAN, both GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY entries, and DEADPOOL in the realm of Marvel movies that are really comedies at their core.

The plot, which has something to do with Thor trying to save his home city of Asgard from being destroyed by his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) with help of his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), really doesn’t matter as the narrative zips through one action set piece to another racking up a lot of big laughs in the process.

Tony Stark is brought up enough times (Ruffalo even wears his clothes) that I was expecting Robert Downey Jr. to pop up, but instead we’ve got Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange to do that duty. But the cast member that appears to be having the most fun here is Jeff Goldblum as the unctuous Grandmaster of a planet on which Thor winds up getting pitted against the Hulk in an arena gladiator fight.

It’s a fun yet disposable entertainment as I laughed quite a bit, but now can’t think of any notable quotes – oh, wait, there was Thor saying “A creepy old man cut my hair off!” which totally sums up the obligatory Stan Lee cameo.

THOR: RAGNAROK may be an overly formulaic (Thormulaic?), and maybe not a really essential entry in the Marvel canon, but it’s sprinkled with so many gags that land that it really doesn’t matter.


More later…